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Greensboro Region

No secrets between UConn and Rutgers

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer winces at the memory.

No basketball coach likes to be on the short end of a 66-46 score, particularly to her conference rival. But even Stringer — a veteran of 37 seasons and 804 wins — hadn't witnessed anything quite like the thrashing top-ranked Connecticut put on the Scarlet Knights on March 3.

"They attacked us so hard," she recalled Monday. "I've never coached against a team that moved the ball as quickly as they did down the floor, that was as hungry and aggressive."

It was a far cry from the UConn team that had lost 73-71 at Rutgers less than a month earlier, but it wasn't the final word. That comes tonight, when UConn (35-1) faces the Scarlet Knights (27-6) for the Greensboro Region title.

The winner advances to the Final Four at the St. Pete Times Forum. The matchup between No. 1 and 2 region seeds is what most envisioned when the NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled March 17 — and one UConn coach Geno Auriemma thinks is more than accidental.

"It's unusual to play a team (in a region final) that you know so well," Auriemma said. "I can't thank the NCAA committee enough for putting us and Rutgers in that situation. That's one way to keep two Big East teams out of the Final Four."

Tonight will add to what has evolved into a top rivalry in women's basketball.

"If you get a rivalry that's born in a league, it's ongoing," noted Auriemma, who has guided UConn to five NCAA titles and hopes to reach his ninth Final Four. "There's just an intensity level that the kids look forward to and the coaches look forward to."

Rutgers sophomore Epiphanny Prince delivered one of the series' great individual performances Feb. 5, scoring 27 of her career-high 33 in the second half as the Scarlet Knights rallied from 10 down.

In the March rematch, Prince shot 2-for-12 en route to five points. Renee Montgomery scored 21 and freshman Maya Moore had 19 as UConn pulled away.

Tonight's most anticipated matchup could pit Moore, the Big East player of the year and the Huskies' leading scorer, against three-time Big East defensive player of the year Essence Carson.

"Essence is extremely aggressive," said Moore, who had 25 points and 11 rebounds in Sunday's region semifinal win over Old Dominion. "She's a defensive leader, and they spark off the energy she brings."

Rutgers reached last year's Final Four via the Greensboro Region, upsetting top-seeded Duke in the semifinal round, but memories won't be enough against UConn. Stringer knows the Scarlet Knights must be better than they were the last time they faced the Huskies and better than they were in Sunday's sluggish win over George Washington.

Carson agrees.

"(Last year) is a great memory to have, but we realize it's a totally different season," the senior forward said. "We understand that to have another 40 minutes, we have to earn it."

No secrets between UConn and Rutgers 03/31/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2008 1:52pm]
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